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Most Beloved (Obscure) Royals: the Finals

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The favorite of the fameless, the star of the second-tier...

The finals have finally arrived. During the prolonged offseason, the regular writers of the site put together a tournament bracket for the most beloved Royal of all time (Alex Gordon upsetting George Brett in the final), and a couple of us in the comments started talking about some of the more obscure players that were well-loved, and I started putting together a bracket and made a fan post.

The first of these posts was on April 20th, so that makes this a 273-day journey, and this is the twelfth article in the series. (As I am not a regular writer for the site, I’ve had to dodge some things in my own life, and I decided that during the two-month season, I wasn’t going to try to shoehorn the bracket into the season coverage.) So this has been a long process, and I’m grateful to Max for letting me write and for all of you who have voted.

Here is the full bracket and results:

John Wathan

Career:

Stats: 2764 PA, .262/.318/.343; 5.0 WAR

Wathan recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of his draft day, the fourth overall pick in the 1971 January draft, which was for high school players who graduated in the winter, junior college players, and players who had dropped out of four-year colleges. Wathan was from the University of San Diego.

Wathan showed some versatility in the minors; although he overwhelmingly played catcher, he also had 86 games at 1B at 45 in the outfield. He reached AAA in just his second minor league season, but he was back in AA the following two seasons, hitting in the .240s. He got a chance at AAA in 1975 and took advantage, hitting over .300. He debuted with the Royals in May of 1976 and spent most of the rest of the season with Kansas City, getting 46 PA in 27 games, hitting .286. He was on the postseason roster for the Royals’ first playoff appearance, but he did not come to the plate.

Wathan was a valuable bench contributor in the next two Royals division-winning teams, hitting .311/.330/.424 in 330 PA in 1977-78, serving as both the back-up to Darrell Porter and, in 1978, the starting first baseman against lefties. After falling off to .206 in 1979, he had his best season in 1980. With Porter in rehab to start the season, Wathan started 40 of the first 50 games at catcher. Overall, he started 72 games at catcher, 11 at 1B, and 31 games in the outfield, hitting .305/.377/.406 in 510 plate appearances, picking up a 10th-place MVP vote in the process.

1980 World Series - Phillies v Royals Photo by Focus on Sport via Getty Images

With Porter departing as a free agent, Wathan was the Royals’ primary catcher from 1981-83, with mixed results. He did not hit well in ‘81 and ‘83, posting a negative WAR. But in 1982, he set the stolen base record for a catcher (36 in 45 attempts) and hit .270 for a 2.1 WAR. He backed up Don Slaught and Jim Sundberg in ‘84 and ‘85, hitting very poorly. He retired to coach in the Royals’ system following the ‘85 World Series.

He was named manager in Omaha in 1987 and was quickly promoted, taking the helm in August. Wathan managed an uneven team with great young pitching, a few star position players, and very deep holes in the lineup. The Bash-Brother A’s were a much more complete team and proved insurmountable. After a 90-win season in 1989, the team plummeted to 86 losses in 1990, despite an offseason spending spree. After a poor start to the ‘91 season, he was canned. The Angels performed poorly under Wathan the following year, when Wathan filled in as manager after a team bus accident sidelined their manager Buck Rodgers for 90 games. Wathan never managed again.

Kansas City Royals

Wathan was called “Duke” by his teammates because of a spot-on John Wayne impression. He has remained part of the Royals community following his playing and managing career. Wathan spent some time coaching in the Red Sox organization, but has mostly done various jobs for the Royals in the last 20 years. His son Dusty Wathan had a long minor-league career as a similar player (minus the speed). His only Major League action was three games with the Royals in 2002, when he went 3-for-5.

Tournament:

region: Personalities (#1 seed)

subregion: #AlwaysRoyal

Path to the finals:

rd 1: over Jeff Conine (81%)

rd 2: over Bud Black (64%)

Sweet 16: over Brian McRae (68%)

Elite 8: over Jeremy Guthrie (70%)

Final 4: over Ben Zobrist (70%)

Wathan’s closest challenge actually came in the second round, against Bud Black, though he’s never really been challenged by anyone. If this were a basketball tournament, he’d certainly be the favorite going into the championship game.

Jim Eisenreich

Career:

Royals stats (1987-1992): 2178 PA, .277/.320/.390, 4.4 WAR

Eisenreich was drafted by the Twins as a hometown boy, in the 16th round of the 1980 draft from Saint Cloud University. He had a big year as a power hitter in 1981 in single-A, and he jumped to the big leagues in 1982. He hit .303/.378/.424 in 111 plate appearances in 1982, but a long-term battle with Tourette’s Syndrome nearly wrecked his career. He had only 44 PA in ‘83-’84 and completely missed the 1985-86 seasons.

Denver Post Archives Denver Post via Getty Images

The Royals selected him off waivers after the 1986 season, and he struggled to regain his footing. The Royals tried him as DH in 1987, and he started playing the outfield in ‘88, but he posted a 61 OPS+ in 329 plate appearances over those two seasons.

Eisenreich’s perseverance paid off in 1989. He had a break-out season, qualifying for the batting title for the first time, first by filling in for an injured Willie Wilson for 25 games in May and June, then continuing to gain playing time in the corner outfield positions, pushing Danny Tartabull to DH. He hit .293, with a 122 OPS+. He played even more in 1990, falling off some but still with above average offensive numbers. Even with Wilson gone in ‘91, Jim lost playing time, with Brian McRae and Kirk Gibson in the mix, but he still hit .301. He dropped to .269 and an 82 OPS+ in 1992, and the Royals let him go as a free agent.

Kansas City Royals Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Now 34 years old, Eisenreich signed with the Phillies and found a place in a lineup featuring several highly productive platoons. Eisenreich paired with Wes Chamberlain for the RF platoon, and the two combined to hit .302 with 19 HR, 99 RBI, and 85 runs scored. He hit a three-run home run that was the key play in a game 2 win in the World Series. After hitting .324 over four years with the Phillies, he joined the Marlins in 1997, winning a ring after serving as the team’s DH in the World Series, with a HR in game 3.

World Series - Florida Marlins v Cleveland Indians - Game Three

In retirement, Eisenreich returned to the Kansas City area to found and run the Jim Eisenreich Foundation for Children with Tourette’s Syndrome.

Tournament:

region: Random (#3 seed)

subregion: Surprises

Path to the finals:

rd 1: over Esteban German (84%)

rd 2: over Pat Sheridan (88%)

Sweet 16: over Buddy Biancalana (64%)

Elite 8: over Steve Balboni (54%)

Final 4: over Tom Gordon (52%)

Eisenreich pulled a couple of upsets over #1 seeds at to advance to the final, with close calls over Steve Balboni and Tom Gordon. Of the two paths to the final, Eisenreich’s was probably a little harder, but Wathan’s big win over Zobrist, who had beaten both Kendrys Morales and Bob Hamelin easily, makes me wonder if Eisenreich has the clout to out-poll Wathan.

Poll

John Wathan or Jim Eisenreich?

This poll is closed

  • 51%
    John Wathan
    (190 votes)
  • 48%
    Jim Eisenreich
    (181 votes)
371 votes total Vote Now

At the end of the “official” beloved Royals bracket, there was a “champion” post. Unless you guys give me a lot of good material in the comments on why you chose the person you chose or I can actually get an interview with the winner, this will probably be my last post. (I have written about each of these guys several times now, so I am out of material.) You can watch the poll numbers to see who won.

Thanks for letting me write, and thanks for voting.